UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin insists Manchester City remain a valued "asset" in their competitions, despite a ban in Europe from next season.
In his first UK television interview since City were banned by UEFA's Club Financial Control Body from competing in European competitions for two years, Ceferin has told Sky Sports News:
- "I respect them, we like them"
- No interference or opinion on punishment
- No conversations with club since ban
- "We're not fighting anybody; we professionally defend position"
- Doubts whether UEFA would agree out of court settlement
- Financial Fair Play: "We have to adapt"
City, who strongly deny breaking financial fair play rules, have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS].
"As with other clubs, they are our asset, I respect them," said Ceferin, in a wide-ranging interview. "I don't want to say that, 'now we don't like Manchester City'. We like them, they are our club. But this process is a separate thing, that I don't interfere with.
"I cannot comment [on] Manchester City, or any other case, out of two reasons. One reason is because I don't know anything about it and the second is, it's not correct for a president to comment [on] the case that is dealt by an independent body. So, absolutely impossible to say anything more."
When asked if UEFA was 'up for a legal fight' with City, Ceferin added: "We are not fighting anybody. We professionally defend our position. I don't like that we speak about Manchester City only. We punished five to ten clubs per season. It's a regular procedure. Let's see."
Ceferin insists he had no dialogue with the officials responsible for the punishment - "I never spoke a single word about this case with any of them" - and repeatedly declined to give his opinion on the ban.
But he has thrown doubt over whether UEFA will consider an out-of-court settlement with the club.
"I doubt [it]," he said "But, again, I don't want to comment. I don't want to comment. But I doubt it's possible."
UEFA's president is also unsure whether CAS will rule on the case before the start of next season.
"Hard to say," said Ceferin. "As much as I heard, it's a big file and I would have to ask our lawyers about the usual time of the decision. It's really impossible to say."
Ceferin says he has not spoken to anybody at Manchester City since the announcement of the ban on February 14 and, should the club reach the Champions League final, he will not discuss the case with any of their officials.
"If they come to the finals or I come to a match, at the Champions League, of course, we will meet," he said. "But I wouldn't speak about the case. I don't know the leaders of the club very well. I met the president, I think twice, and I met the CEO maybe four or five times, at different events."
Ceferin praised City's comeback at the Bernabeu in the Champions League Round of 16 - "They played very well against Real Madrid [first leg], nice football" - and he was asked whether it would be "fair" if they won the competition this season but were denied the opportunity to defend the trophy next season.
"First of all, before Court of Arbitration for Sport decides, we shouldn't comment on that," he said. "But whoever wins Champions League, it's good. Any club wins, I like it. It's not a problem. I would like to see a fantastic final in Istanbul. That's all I care."
A Manchester City statement claimed a "flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process" led to their sanction, but Ceferin would not be drawn on the club's remarks.
"Who says I must have a view?" he added. "Independent bodies are independent and, with you journalists, it's always, you say, 'don't touch independent bodies, independent bodies should be independent'.
"But when they decide, you want us to comment [on] the decisions of independent bodies. It's impossible. I really don't know. I don't know, I don't want to interfere, I don't want to have an opinion."
Financial Fair Play: "We have to adapt"
Ceferin acknowledged mistakes have "probably" been made involving UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations.
"It was established to stop the losses in European football, and it was successful," he said. "In the future, I think we will have to adapt it, we will have to change some things. We are already discussing about it. It's a bit too early to share it with you.
"Maybe we should modernise, we should go next step. But when it will happen, I don't think very soon. We will not even discuss, concretely, what the ideas are before the Euros.
"I don't know if mistakes have been made. Probably, yes, everywhere, mistakes have been made. But the changes will be made, if we will do it, because football changes as an industry. More and more money is coming in. Should we allow money to come in? But what is the consequence if you allow more money to come in?
"It's not that we are changing something because it's not working but the purpose was met and, now, we have to see what we do about competitive balance because Financial Fair Play is not exactly competitive balance. People mix it from time to time. For competitive balance, probably we would need more and different measures."
Ceferin says he can sympathise with critics of Financial Fair Play, who claim it stifles investment into clubs that could stimulate communities.
"It's hard to say," said Ceferin. "In a way they are right, in a way they are wrong. We are also thinking about it a lot.
"Is it right not allow money to come in? What kind of money? How? What does it mean if you invest too much? Do you have to pay a tax on that and give it to the ones who can't invest and help solve the issue of competitive balance. It's a discussion that is going on. It doesn't mean that you change the rules because the rules before were a failure. Sometimes you have to modernise. Every industry, including football, is changing."
Racism: "Those idiots don't care about football"
Ceferin also spoke passionately about UEFA's fight against racism and discriminatory behaviour.
"First of all, explain what are weak sanctions? Empty stadiums are weak sanctions?" he asked. "People say many things. The main thing of racism is the racism in society.
"Even in England and we need help from the authorities. We need countries to help, not politicians to come out and shout that UEFA should do more. We might be stricter, maybe sometimes now the three-step procedure will be respected everywhere. We might even change the rules. But you cannot say just, simplistically, that 'your sanctions are weak, so you let people down'. I don't think so."
When asked whether he would consider tougher sanctions, including points deductions and excluding teams from competitions, Ceferin said: "Yeah, that's also possible. That's possible if it is repeating to the same teams, or to the same national associations. This is a possibility. It doesn't bring a benefit to UEFA, but we would still support those players [who want to walk off pitch]. Nobody has the right to say that they have to suffer insults, and humiliation.
"UEFA's perception, FIFA's perception, and IOC's perception, is always that we are not tough enough. That we are almost corrupt and stuff like that. It's not always so. We are dealing every week with situations like that. We are investing a lot. We are sanctioning and national associations understand, you know.
"They have 50,000 people and five idiots who destroy football in a country. And those idiots don't care about football. They want to be on your TV, to show that they stopped the match. I don't say we shouldn't stop it but it's really not easy, trust me. It's a big challenge and it's a societal problem. Not [just] racism, it's sexism, it's homophobia, it's more and more. So, it's really not easy. It's easy to say, 'sanction, kick this country out, kick this club out' but do you help that way?
"Do you think those idiots would not come to a match anymore? They would, because they would succeed. It's not easy, trust me, it's not easy. It's easier for you than for me in this situation. I would gladly ask you what you would do."
Coronavirus: "Everything is under control"
Ceferin maintains that football - and UEFA - is taking the global spread of coronavirus "seriously" but says there is no present threat to Euro 2020, which will be staged across 12 countries.
"It's obviously a serious thing," he said. "It's something that we will have to deal on top of all the other issues that we have to deal with, we organise many events. But I'm optimistic. I still think that things will be under control way before the Euros start. So, I'm not worried about it.
"We are not so far that we would speak about concrete scenarios when the Euros starts. Again, I would like to stress, we are calm, and we are confident. For now, everything is under control."
Asked if he could reduce the number of host nations and whether he anticipates any part of the tournament played behind closed doors, he replied: "I don't want to even think about it because we are, for now, sure that everything will go exactly as planned. We already reserved the hotels [in London for the semi-finals and final at Wembley], it would be a problem if it doesn't happen."
"Being full of panic, shouting all days, threatening, doesn't mean you take it seriously. You take it seriously if you assess the situation properly but, at the same time, calmly and without panicking."
Women's game: Euro 2021 in England "benchmark for future"
The UEFA president believes next summer's Women's European Championships, held in England, will herald a "new era" in the game.
"[The] Champions League Final is sold out now, every year," he said. "Women's football is growing. We invest a lot and I think we should, through promotion, we should invest into the development of women's football. We were losing millions with Euros in the past, now we are close to breaking even. And we always said, 'we didn't lose money, we invested money'.
"So, next year you have Euro 2021 in England, with a final in Wembley. I think that can be a benchmark for the future. If we succeed that the stadium is full, then a new era of women's football will start."